Vaccination Station: Picking the right vaccine10 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
This article is the last part of our vaccination station trilogy. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 to complete your vaccinologist training.
Until now, vaccines were straightforward. Since Edward Jenner invented the first western vaccine for smallpox in 1796, nothing much had changed until we met our arch-nemesis, Covid 19. Now, like everything else about this year, vaccines are a whole different ball-game.
Not only are we developing vaccines faster than ever before, but the technologies used in them are also entirely new to humankind. So, let’s go ahead and take a look at what they are.
Before we invent vaccines, let’s clear up a few things:
First of all, no matter how the Covid-19 vaccine is made, it is made to give us the same result. That is, each vaccine must help our body create the right fighter proteins to ward off the SARS-Cov2 virus.
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The fighter proteins that our body makes to fight off various illnesses and viruses are known as antibodies. Once our body learns how to make these antibodies, it remembers for a very long time. Sometimes this memory even lasts a whole lifetime!
<< Antibodies| Image: Thermo Fisher Scientific
How does our body create the right antibodies?
Well, think of the vaccine as a teacher or guide for the body. The job of the Covid-19 vaccine is to teach our body to create these antibodies: the defender cells. Our bodies are smarter than you think, so once they learn to fight off a virus even once, they can do it again and again.
You’ve probably seen images of the spiky Covid-19 virus floating around everywhere already, but take a look again. While these spikes make the virus look deadly, they are also the very things that our antibodies can learn to latch onto and prevent it virus from infecting more cells.
Several roads to a single destination
Though all the vaccines have a common goal, they reach their goals in all sorts of twisted ways. To be specific, there are three broad categories of Covid-19 vaccines being developed.
- Traditional vaccines that are made with dead or weak Viruses
- Genetic or smart vaccines
- Vaccines made with the coronavirus spike protein
Alright then, it is time for you to make your very own Covid-19 vaccine. Let’s go over your options.
Whole Virus Vaccines or Viral Vector Vaccines
Whole Virus Vaccines
In this method, you take a little amount of the weakened Covid19 virus and introduce it to the body. You either inactivate it entirely or really weaken it, just so you aren’t infecting people with the illness. Once it is introduced, it’ll prepare to fight by manufacturing special bio-soldiers, antibodies, and begin to latch onto the dreaded covid spikes.
So the next time the virus attacks with a much larger and stronger army, the body already has its defenses prepared.
But, to make this vaccine, you’re going to have to grow the virus and a lot of it. So, while your vaccine will work, it might take a while to prepare.
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The vaccine for the Influenza virus or the seasonal flu is created with viruses that are grown in chicken eggs!
Viral vector Vaccines
Rather than using the coronavirus itself, you could just use another virus altogether and make a viral vector vaccine. For Covid-19, most scientists have used the weakened version of a virus called the Adenovirus. You could attach the coronavirus’s spiky protein to it and send it into the body. Once you’ve done all that, wait for the body to perform its magic.
Several Governments have approved the whole virus or viral vector vaccines developed by Russia and China. India is producing a whole lot of traditional vaccines that will be used to vaccinate people across the globe!
Genetic or Smart Vaccines
Is growing the virus too much of a hassle for you? Well, you could try genetic vaccines. Now, they’ve never been used before, but scientists have done their research. For over ten years, scientists have been picking away at these vaccines, perfecting them by making them as safe and effective as possible.
Your genes are like the in-built code for your body. They tell your cells what to do and dictate a whole lot of your bodily changes. Your genetic material lies within your DNA, which is present in all your cells. Genetic vaccines bring the virus’ secret code to your cells so that they can tell them what to do and teach them to fight the virus. There are two kinds of genetic vaccines.
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: The spike protein contains the code that makes the virus reproduce and spread in the body. Once our antibodies attach themselves to these spikes, they can prevent the virus’ replication or spread.
The first kind is DNA vaccines. All you have to do is pack some DNA with the virus’s code for its spike protein. Then you have to send that DNA into a cell in the body. Once the DNA is in the cell, the body’s cells get busy reading it. They locate the viral protein code and copy it. The copied code is then stored in genetic material known as messenger RNA or mRNA. MRNA sends the code stored in the DNA to the cell, where this code can be converted into an action.
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: People have expressed concern that messing with our DNA could cause some long-term unwanted changes. But scientists have been vaccinating animals with these vaccines for years. We’re yet to see a horse with wings!
The mRNA will then acquire the protein for the body to create imitations of Covid-19 spikes. Soon you have enough home-made Covid19 proteins for your body to learn to recognize them and defend itself.
No DNA vaccine has been approved by any government so far.
You could also skip the DNA injection and simply inject the body with coded mRNA. That is mRNA that contains the code to Covid-19. Then, much like the mRNA that the body would produce after the DNA injection, this mRNA would get cracking on spike protein building. Once the spike proteins are constructed, antibodies are unleashed, and you know what happens next.
Since mRNA is a very fragile material, you need to store it at below-freezing temperatures. The mRNA vaccine made by the company Pfizer has to be kept at -90 degrees Celcius! This will require special storage and transport systems that countries like India do not have as yet.
On the bright side, modified RNA’s fragility makes it safe. The fragile nature of the mRNA ensures that the virus code carrying stuff gets destroyed in our body. In just a few days, the injected mRNA is destroyed by the body. However, it will have already created enough spike proteins to generate antibodies that will destroy the proteins and memorise how to do that.
The most promising vaccines so far have been mRNA vaccines. Two of the vaccines are over 90% effective and have been authorised in several western countries.
Protein- Based Vaccines
You could skip the mRNA step too! Simply introduce Covid-19s spike protein to the body. Since it is not a virus, it can’t infect the body. But it can still teach the body to attach itself to Covid-19’s spike protein and prevent the virus from replicating or causing illness. That sound’s like a pretty great deal to us!
No protein based vaccine has been approved by any government so far.
Now that you’ve got familiar with all your options doctor, take your final pick using our guiding chart below:
Owliver’s Essential Reminder
All the vaccines that scientists have developed so far are safe and have been well-tested.
These vaccines are not in competition but are working together to vaccinate the worlds’ population. After all, that is 7.8 billion people who need protection from Covid-19.
Vaccinating everyone will take a while. So, until then, don’t forget to wash your hands and wear a mask.
Congratulations! You are now up to date with the latest in vaccine technology.
With Excerpts From: New York Times, New York Times, historyofvaccines.org, historyofvaccines.org, Oxford University’s Vaccine knowledge project, history.com, vaccines.gov(USA), The immunisation advisory centre